Post-election Post (Editorial)

Now that the dust has settled and the result is no different than last election (Is it just me or does anyone else have deja vu from October?), perhaps there’s no wonder that a proportion of New Westminster’s citizens voted (in a completely non-binding way) to increase the electoral cycle from 3 years to 4 – perhaps this proportion of the population believes that since nothing will change, why go to the expense to have elections so frequently?

I’m sure that in the coming weeks, editors, electors and candidates will toss around theories for the lack of change of the council, the apparent dearth of an expected “Grimston Park Effect” and as to how to deal with a 50-year age gap between sole newbie, Jamie MacEvoy, and the rest of City Council, but I am pretty confident that it can all be boiled down and neatly answered with my pet theory about New West – I call it the “One Highschool Effect” or OHE for short.

I have long held that it is the peculiar makeup of New Westminster’s school district that has kept the politics, neighbourhood relationships, development plans and even traditions bound to a small town mindset. One highschool of 2200 kids (when I was there) provided the sort of demographic funnel that kept almost everyone in the population within 4 or 5 degrees of separation – just enough to mean that you wouldn’t stop everyone on the street for tea and cakes, but just right to mean that everybody’s mom, dad, uncle, realtor, dogwalker, dry cleaner, Waffle House owner knew whose kid you were, and likely what elementary school you went to (and thus your neighbourhood and socio-economic status).

In a town where most families have children who grow up, leave, and then come back to raise their kids, often with three or four generations of one family having attended the same high school, memories are long and tradition is revered. In a town where it must seem like most “newfangled” developments seem to fail – the once shiny and bustling Quay Market now dreary and empty; hundreds of shiny new condos built on the old Penn lands all leaky, and an apparent inability to keep any sort of floating vessel at the Quay for long, and the loss of Royal City Centre as a viable retail space – perhaps there is some suspicion of new ideas, and the people who bring them? Perhaps this small-town feeling that has preserved New West’s historical charm, has kept residents wary of change – especially where their government is concerned.

Certainly it seems that the longest serving members of Council are those who are also older – whatever happened to Jerry Dobrovolny, who was the youngest – and cutest! – thing to hit council when I was a teenager. He was the first one to use large-format campaign signs, the first to put his face on his signs and the first one to use colour. The net effect was to send the message that perhaps Jerry, a late-thirties family man and city engineer in Vancouver, was perhaps the only candidate running for council in 1995 who knew how to use a computer. When did he leave?

One quick look at New Westminster’s Mayors shows how this city likes to hold onto its leaders. Muni Evers’ service spanned three decades, from 1968-1982; beloved Mayor Betty Toporowski served almost 10 years (despite the “racy” painting incident!), and with a third term looming ahead of him, mayor Wayne Wright is likely to top up to 9 years himself. There hasn’t been a single-term Mayor since J.L. Sangster in 1949-1950! (Take that, Sam Sullivan…)

It seems obvious that New West values its history and perhaps is wary of change. This is bound to change given the rapidly changing demographics of both the city and the provincial population in general, however I can’t help but wonder whether there isn’t still a silent majority block of voters whose wishes are felt every three years when they again vote in a comfortably familiar set of Mayor, Council and School Board.

Perhaps if the lack of change in governance across the board is part of a larger community effort to thwart change through historical preservation, the mayor and council may need to watch out or they might find themselves on display in Irving House one of these days.

Interview With Mayoral Candididate, Wayne Wright

Several weeks ago, I contacted both candidates for mayor: Wayne Wright (independent incumbent) and Blair Armitage (Voice New Westminster) and invited them to reply to an email interview to discuss various topics and give voters a view into what they were both like as people. I say I contacted them but really I contacted Wayne Wright and a few gatekeepers for Mr. Armitage. After striving twice and half-heatedly feigning interest for a third time, I gave up on the possibility that Mr. Armitage would lend his ‘voice’ to this blog; so this post goes to Mayor Wright alone.

Getting the answers from Mayor Wright was no stroll through the Queen’s Park Rose Garden either I will tell you. The response email was not sent properly or perhaps sent correctly but to someone else, and I did not receive it when the Mayor intended me to. After some back and forth however, he did promptly return a call and arrange for a moment where we could go over the responses via telephone. I was pleased that he had followed up to ensure I had the email and impressed at how generous he was with his time. Perhaps he learned the earth shattering importance of this blog from Matthew Laird, a recently featured candidate for council…
Well then, here are the questions and answers, presented as paraphrase, not verbatim:

10-2TF: What is the best part about being the Mayor of New Westminster? What has been the most fun?

It is really the people I meet and have met in the city. That is the most fun. The best thing is to really move forward on the issues and make a difference.

TF: What advice would you give to any new councillors that may be elected this year?
Wright: For our new councillors, I think it will be really important to listen and learn and get a sense of how things are done before diving into a topic or an issue.

102-TF: What big issue or problem led to the formation of the ‘Voice New Westminster’ slate?

I think they are basing their campaign on dishonesty. They talk about problems that are dealt with and dissatisfaction in the city when a very recent Ipsos-Reid Poll measured an almost 90% satisfaction rate from the citizens of this city. By all of the meaningful statistics, our crime rate has also fallen and is now lower than at any time in the last ten years.

TF: What kind of administration would we see from Wayne Wright, if re-elected, over the next three years?

Residents would see the same kind of administration as they see now with an open door policy to anyone who wants to lend their advice or opinions. They will continue to see an inclusive and responsive Mayor’s office.

TF: What role, if any, do you see New Westminster playing as we host the world for the Olympics in 2010?

New Westminster does not have a direct role in the games but we will have a role to play hosting the world. I have a few surprises that we are working on that will really leave an impression but I won’t be saying anything about that yet. We also have the opportunity at that time to really invite everyone to join us in ‘Celebrate 150’ as New Westminster commemorates our 150th year.

I have a few surprises that we are working on that will really leave an impression but I won’t be saying anything about that yet.

10-2TF: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

Wright: An eagle. I was named as an eagle by the First Nations. The name was a gift and I was honoured by their choice. (Citizens may recall that an eagle illustration decorates the back of the Mayor’s somewhat antique Ford Truck as a spare tyre cover, along with the phrase “Good Bye, Good Luck!”.

TF: There has been a lot of talk in this campaign about the mood or attitude of the various platforms. Some candidates speak endlessly about ‘being positive’ while others have presented a very dark and negative view about life in the city and have suggested that a souring relationship with city staff is an example of this attitude. What do you think needs to happen to improve this?

If you walk into City Hall –and ask anybody–people will say that it is a fantastic place to work, it is the best and it always has been. We have the support of our staff.

TF: For some voters, environmental concerns may be at the top of the list of issues that are important to them. What initiatives do you propose that might improve our environment?

Now there we have just completed a study of all city vehicles in use and have some great recommendations on how to better use the vehicles we have for better fuel economy and, where appropriate, to change the way we use some vehicles and change some of the vehicles that we use. Also, we will continue to encourage responsible development in the city and environmental construction methods. When it is complete, New Westminster will have the only gold standard LEED constructed building in British Columbia. We should be proud of that and we will do more in the future. (Note: LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, provides standards for environmentally sustainable construction.

TF: Many voters are most interested in social issues. What do you see as an area for improvement?

Wright: It is our parks, we need more parkland in this city and we are working hard on that for our waterfront. We need to see more amenities like the Civic Center for downtown and investments in other parts of the city. We will have the casino revenues to assist with that.

TF: For business and employment: what is the best way to foster growth in the City?

We have to preserve the industrial lands we have left and mixed use lands. In the downtown we have seen a real benefit from changing the traffic and driving methods there. Also, while keeping our historical heritage in place, we need to be flexible with the developers that are here to do business in our city.

TF: Thanks for being a part of this questionnaire! I have only one more question. What is something funny about yourself that you could share to help voters relate to you as a candidate?

I’ll tell you one thing. In the Philippines, in Quezon — our sister city there — the Mayor, Sonny Balmonte, started giving me a nickname, “Sunny Wright.” In parts of the Philippines, they are not as fortunate as here. They paint their houses bright colours to help keep up the spirit and I guess he thought I had a “Sunny Disposition.” Recently, also, Fidel Ramos, the “Savior of Democracy” in the Philippines, stopped by here in New Westminster for a visit while on his way back from Toronto. The Consul General called and asked if I would mind meeting with him and I jumped at the chance. It is great to meet with leaders like that and represent the people of New Westminster.

Well that is it folks. I wish I had something for you to compare it to but only the one mayoral candidate sees the awesome power of the mighty blog, I suppose.

New West candidates on the issues

When it comes to e-campaigning, many of our local candidates fall short.

A few – the Voice slate, Jonathan Cote, Matthew Laird – are doing a reasonable job of leveraging the web to communicate stance on the issues.

The others who have inadequate web presences or lacking any website at all are doing both their campaigns and New West citizens a disservice.

Mass media can only communicate so much about municipal politics, due to the constraints of the form. The web, on the other hand, has the potential to provide much more detailed and localized information if leveraged appropriately.

Thankfully, for New West voters, The Vancouver Sun has stepped in to help fill the information gap. The Sun has published a municipal election database online incorporating information from civic candidates around the region about where they stand on local issues.

Here’s how it breaks down in New West.

According to their survey answers, here are the key differences between mayoral incumbent Wayne Wright and rival Blair Armitage:

While Wright is running on his record as a capable, experienced manager of our city, Armitage is out to change the status quo. In particular, Armitage feels that council hasn’t been responsive to citizen concerns regarding proposed developments.

  • Both candidates named crime and traffic congestion in their top three issues, however Armitage also feels taxation is an issue while Wright is concerned with homelessness
  • Armitage’s answers are research-based, citing poll data, news reports and regional statistics to support his points; Wright’s responses seem more qualitative, drawing on his experience as mayor for the last six years.
  • Wright supports maintaining our local independent police force, while Armitage would like to see a consolidated Metro Vancouver police force
  • Armitage strongly supports increasing development fees, while Wright is neutral on the issue
  • Armitage wants to proceed with twinning the Port Mann; Wright opposes the project
  • Armitage believes New West is “plagued with sprawl and poor land-use planning” while Wright disagrees
  • Armitage believes government bureaucracy and inefficiency is costing taxpayers
  • Armitage supports changing from an at-large election system to wards

I’m finding the Sun’s data very helpful in gaining clarity on what each candidate stands for. As a blogger and data nerd, I do have some constructive criticism.

The data should be fully indexed and easily searched/compared. It is, after all, intended to help aid comparison between candidates. It’s hard to get that perspective when you must look at one at a time.

Ideally, the Sun would make the raw data available for people to parse & sort as needed to extract the information they seek. The experience as it stands is exactly like a printed pull-out voters’ guide. I appreciate that it is accessible online and that the paper made the effort to compile the information, but I also can’t help see it as an opportunity lost.

UPDATE: I figured if I wanted the data I better do something about it. I’ve published a consolidated spreadsheet online via Google Docs aggregating the info from the Sun. It’s only partial – many of our candidates have not responded yet – but I will update as I see that new candidates’ views are added.

Opening Salvo: Mayoral Candidates

As reviewed in a previous post, all 17 candidates for Mayor and Council were present at the Oct 21st All Candidates Meeting, hosted by the Queensborough Residents Association. We have heard from the Council hopefuls already. Here I review my impressions on the Mayoral candidates; Wayne Wright (incumbent) and Blair Armitage. Each man had an opening and closing statement and moderator Dean Wells had a number of questions reserved just for the Mayor’s race.

Blair Armitage looks the part. He is a squarely built, senatorial and businesslike and he began his remarks forcefully calling for a police depot to be built in Queensborough, perhaps into the addition planned for the community center. A law an order candidate; that is how he came across. Cleaning up crime and graffiti (I just did some cleaning my self as a matter of fact, on the back fence) and making the town safe for all the families.

Armitage was cutting in his attack on what he views as an aloof council (and Mayor) that doesn’t listen to the views of the citizens groups. He cites opposition to development projects and towers that were approved even though they were spoken against in council meetings. He did come across as being against further development or building. I would be interested to hear more on how he would plan to handle the pressure for growth in the Lower Mainland.

During the question period, many of his answers were direct and matter of fact and he often did not use the time alloted to him by the moderators. During one memorable answer Armitage insinuated Mayor Wright had presented a Gucci Plan to cover the open ditches in the neighborhood with the design that it would be rejected and that Queensborough residents really wanted a modest plan. Mayor Wright’s proposal to deal with the shocking projected cost of the ditch remediation plan was to do a pilot project over a short block to get a better idea on the true costs. Both candidates received hearty applause for their positions.

The loudest and most sustained applause was after Mayor Wright’s opening remarks. He passionately (and maybe a little too loudly) boosted the record of the last council and New Westminster as a city. He was a bit of a bull-dog politician during this two minute opener but he used that time to insist that he looked after the whole city, as a unit and that he maintained an open door policy for any citizen. I was almost a little uncomfortable hearing him loudly “take full responsibility for the lase six years” of governance. It was as if you were a kid watching your dad in an argument with your principal. After insisting that no city in the Lower Mainland was better prepared for the expected recession, he took his seat to a full and lengthly applause. I noticed VOICE candidates Wandell and Osterman shifting uncomfortably as the hall went quiet again.

One Exchange I appreciated was a question on illegal suites:

Illegal suites have not been closed down and the likelihood of our city’s bylaw being enforced is remote. What is your position on this?

Mr. Armitage, presented a position that “we can not allow our citizens to blatantly thumb their nose” at the by-laws and he suggested a mechanism to make it easier or more attractive for owner’s of illegal suites in New Westminster to get their suites approved and updated to code. Mayor Wright’s response showed a clear difference in philosophy between the candidates as he firmly insisted that unless great strides were made in affordable housing with more participation from other levels of government, illegal suites were a necessity in the city and should only be monitored to ensure public safety. In my view this was the one point on the debate that showed the greatest contrast. I have included the answers here on a video for you to decide.